© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Iran’s riot police forces stand in a street in Tehran, Iran October 3, 2022. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
DUBAI (Reuters) -Iranians enraged over the death of a young woman in police custody braved bullets and tear gas on Saturday, a human rights group said, pressing ahead with protests against clerical rulers facing a relentless popular uprising.
An Iranian state coroner’s report denied that Mahsa Amini had died due to blows to the head and limbs while in police custody and linked her death to pre-existing medical conditions, state media said on Friday.
The death of 22-year-old Amini, an Iranian Kurd, has ignited nationwide demonstrations, marking the biggest challenge to Iran’s clerical leaders in years.
Women have removed their veils in defiance of the clerical establishment while furious crowds called for the downfall of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
After a call for mass demonstrations on Saturday, security forces shot at protesters and used tear gas in the Kurdish cities of Sanandaj and Saqez, according to the Iranian human rights group Hengaw.
In Sanandaj, capital of Kurdistan Province in northwest Iran, one man lay dead in his car while a woman screamed “shameless”, according to Hengaw.
Speaking at Alzahra University in Tehran, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi recited a poem in which he equated the “rioters” with flies.
“They imagine they can achieve their evil goals in universities. Unbeknownst to them that our students and professors are alert and will not allow the enemy to realise their evil goals,” said Raisi, trying to shore up support for Iran’s leaders.
Widespread strikes are taking place in the cities of Saqez, Diwandareh, Mahabad and Sanandaj, said Hengaw.
One of the schools in Saqez city’s square was filled with school girls chanting “woman, life, freedom,” it reported.
Amini was arrested in Tehran on Sept. 13 for “inappropriate attire”, and died three days later.
Rights groups say more than 150 people have been killed, hundreds injured and thousands arrested by security forces confronting protests.
Hengaw said on Saturday that Iranian security forces had launched crackdowns in two Kurdish cities.
“Security forces are shooting at the protesters in Sanandaj and Saqez,” the group said. It said riot police were also using tear gas.
The widely followed Tavsir1500 Twitter account also reported shootings at protesters in the two northwestern Kurdish cities.
The government has described the protests as a plot by Iran’s enemies including the United States, accusing armed dissidents – among others – of violence in which at least 20 members of the security forces have been reported killed.